IMPORTANCE OF POLITICAL BLOGS
Political blogs have transformed the political landscape in the United States. Early on bloggers were credited with unseating Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Shactman, 2002), and more recently, 2008 presidential candidates used their blogs to advertise and mobilize volunteers (Pole, 2010). Efforts to mobilize individuals, raise awareness, encourage readers to contact elected officials, vote, and register to vote are just some ofthe ways blogs have been used as vehicles for participation. The empirical implications of these efforts are noteworthy. Elections, for example, can be won or loss. Though ultimately loosing the general election, Ned Lamont’s successful 2006 primary victory highlights the power ofbloggers, who were credited with Lamont’s primary victory (Cohen, 2007). Additionally, nearly all major media outlets have created blogs alongside their more traditional methods of disseminating the news, underlining their saliency. Given their growth, coupled with their import, we must consider whether and how this impacts women political bloggers.
Figures documenting the number of blogs and readers vary considerably. In March 2008, one report indicated 184 million blogs were created and 346 million people read them globally (Solis, 2009). Other sources offer more conservative estimates. Technorati (http://technorati. com), a well-known blog aggregator, reports that since 2002, 133 million blogs exist. Given the pervasiveness ofblogs, their significance in the political blogosphere should not be underestimated. While the number of blogs that focus on politics, public policy and current events remains unknown, the previously mentioned examples highlight the consequences of this growing medium.
Although the differences between men and women political bloggers is beyond the scope of this study—instead this study focuses on what is unique about women political bloggers—it is important to note the significance of gender disparities within the political blogosphere, given the implications this has on civic engagement and politics. A survey of 147 political bloggers shows just 30 percent of respondents are women (McKenna & Pole, 2008), mirroring broader blogosphere findings from the 2008 and 2009 “State of the Blogosphere” (Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2008, 2009). If few women blog about politics, what affect does this have on political discourse, participation and the political landscape? Marcotte’s explanation, “I didn’t exactly fit the image people have of bloggers who join campaigns—the stereotype being 30-something nerdy young white men” underlines the politics of gender, which arise even online. Whether and how women political bloggers participate in politics, provides a snapshot toward furthering our understanding of women’s use of information technology in the context of politics and participation. This study provides a baseline to which subsequent studies can be compared.
Challenges to participating in politics are not uncommon. Women in the US likely face more obstacles than men, because they are primary care givers to children, combined with their presence in the workforce. Among traditional forms of political participation, men are slightly more active than women with men averaging 2.3 acts and women two acts (Verba et al., 2005). Pronounced disparities also exist between men and women’s online activities (Fallows, 2005). This study presents an opportunity to discover what challenges, if any, women face in using blogs for purposes related to politics. Time and money are two of the most commonly mentioned obstacles to participating in politics. Blogging’s flexibility enhances opportunities to participate. Bloggers are not bounded by time, geography, or monetary constraints, again common obstacles to offline forms of participation. Absent these obstacles, bloggers can have, and have had, a real impact on US politics, underlining the importance of this medium. For example, women can encourage readers to contact elected officials or they can become engaged in shaping public policy through their blogs without having to leave home.
Finally, recent studies (Herring, 2003; Herring et al., 2004; Herring & Paolillo, 2006; Kennedy et al., 2005) detail how women blog for reasons unrelated or only partially related to politics. Analyses that focus on women political bloggers emphasize the context of language and feminist theory. These studies narrowly illustrate the importance of women political bloggers in particular circumstances—such as overtly sexualized blogging—but they do not account for broader political acts like voting and contacting elected officials, or working on a political campaign like Marcotte and McEwan. This research contributes to the literature by providing a better understanding about what issues women political bloggers blog and how women political bloggers use their blogs to undertake a range of political activities.